Mark spends a couple of days interviewing drivers and every one of them has something wrong with him. They don’t want to work weekends, or be out on the road too long, and a lot of them just can’t speak English.
Finally he meets Mitch Murtog, an experienced driver with a clean record and a bit of a rebellious side to him…just like Mark himself. After a day on the road Mitch calls Mark complaining of a flat tire. Mark arranges a repair, but Mitch doesn’t wait for the guy and calls in someone on his own, costing Mark the charge for his call, and the repair made by the other repairman.
Mark had been driving his new rig, Mother Load II, for three days and couldn’t be more pleased with the truck’s performance. It was so much quieter, so much easier to drive, so much more comfortable and fuel-efficient… in fact, so much more of everything than his previous truck he wondered why he’d waited so long to make the upgrade. Best of all, he hadn’t received a phone call from Mitch in all that time, which Mark took to be a sign that everything was running smoothly. No news, after all, is good news.
But by the end of the fourth day when he still hadn’t heard from his driver, Mark began to worry. If everything had gone according to plan, Mitch was supposed to have delivered his load last night in Montreal and then call him to let him know what was going on. Rather than wait any longer, Mark decided to call Mitch himself. There was no answer.
Mark called Bud.
“Hi Bud, Mark here.”
“Yes… Mark Dalton.”
“You need another load already?”
“No, I’m calling about my driver, Mitch Murtog.”
Bud laughed. “That guy’s as crazy as you are, you know that?”
Mark smiled, wondering what Mitch had said over the phone to make Bud think that, but deciding there were more important things he needed to know at the moment. “You talked to him recently?”
“Yeah, he called from Montreal. I gave him a load into Ottawa.”
“When was that?”
“Yesterday. He was supposed to have called early this morning for another load, but I haven’t heard from him.”
Mark thanked Bud, hung up, then tried Mitch’s number again. The driver answered after the tenth ring. “Yeah.” He sounded like he’d just gone three rounds with the Champ. “This is Mark Dalton calling.”
“Hey man, I’ve been meaning to call you.”
“Where are you?”
There was the sound of movement, then in a far away voice, “Where are we?”
“Outside Fredericton,” came the faint reply from another – female – voice.
“What are you doing there? You’re supposed to be in Ottawa.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’ve been meaning to call you about. I was in Ottawa, but then I met up with this chick…”
Mark’s blood suddenly ran cold as the situation was rapidly going from bad to worse. Mark wanted to know what was going on, but he instinctively knew he wasn’t going to like what he was about to hear.
“We sort of hit it off in this bar and, well… she’s got a rig of her own and offered me more money than you to team up with her.” Then he laughed a sickening boyish chuckle. “She’s paying me more, and I’m getting laid every night. It’s an awesome deal, man!”
Mark let out a long sigh and resisted the urge to smash his cell phone against the steering wheel. How the hell was he supposed to compete against a fringe benefit like that? “Where’s my truck?”
Mark was seeing red. How could a driver forget about his obligations to his employer and just leave his truck stranded at a rest stop? As he shook his head, Mark realized it was easy when there was more money and feminine charms at work. Mitch might be getting some, but Mark was the one who was being screwed.
“Where exactly is the truck?”
Mitch gave Mark directions to the rest station and the manager’s name. When they’d finished exchanging information, Mitch said, “Uh, how will you be paying me for the load I drove for you?”
Mark was speechless. This guy had left Mark high-and-dry and now he was expecting to get paid for providing the inconvenience.
“I’ll put the cheque in the mail for you,” Mark said, getting some satisfaction out of saying the words.
“Can you send it Express Post?” Mitch asked. “I could really use the money.”
“Better yet,” Mark said. “I’ll e-mail it to you.”
“Thanks, man.” Mark hung up wondering how long it would be before idiot Mitch realized that you couldn’t send cheques over the Internet.
Mark made his delivery in Toronto, then parked Mother Load II in a fenced yard near the airport that had a security guard on duty at the front gate 24-hours a day. He’d have to pay to leave his truck there, but his peace of mind over the safety of his truck far outweighed any expense. Besides, all of his worry and concern these days was being spent on Mother Load and what sort of shape he’d find her in when he got to Gatineau.
Sure the truck was parked in a safe place and the manager had a key, but that didn’t mean there wouldn’t be other people bumping into it, running keys along its body, or pissing on its tires. Mark knew all of those things could happen to the truck quite easily because he’d done all of them to other people’s trucks over the years.
Once Mother Load II was in place, Mark booked a car through a rental place that had an office in Ottawa that guaranteed him a lift out to Gatineau at no extra charge. All told, it took him half a day and $200 to get himself onto Highway 401 headed west.
Mark could only shake his head. Less than a week in business and he was already out $400 and no better off than when he started. In fact, he was worse off because now he was right back where he started, with an extra truck and no driver, but now he had to get the truck back to Toronto and hire a new driver, which would take another couple of days – if he was lucky.
To make matters worse, he now had a brand new truck on the road and every day he spent dealing with his old truck was a day that his new truck wasn’t making any mo-ney. In many ways Mark felt like he was at the bottom of a deep hole and every time he tried to crawl up, the earth gave way, burying him a little bit deeper than before. And instead of the dirt collecting at the bottom of the hole, which would eventually raise him up to a level where he could climb out, the hole just kept getting deeper and deeper with no chance of him ever getting out. It was enough to make Mark want to cry.
But he wasn’t about to do that, not now. He was a smart, experienced driver and this had been one little setback.
Next time, he’d be a little smarter about how he’d go about hiring a driver, and a little bit more careful about whom he allowed behind the wheel of his beloved Mother Load. There had to be a few good drivers out there somewhere. He just had to find one, that’s all.
A few hours later Mark was turning the car over to a clerk at the rental firm, then hopping into it so the clerk could drive him out to Gatineau. The clerk was young, clean cut and called Mark “Sir” every time he addressed him. Best of all he drove the car smoothly without any hard stops or rough starts.
“You ever drive a truck?” Mark asked him.
“Excuse me, sir?” the clerk replied.
When they got to the rest station outside Gatineau they had to drive around the lot twice before Mark recognized Mother Load parked in a corner between two tankers.
“Is that it?” asked the clerk.
“Yeah,” Mark said, his heart broken. Mother Load was covered in dirt and the whole right side had been spattered by something that looked like dark, dark mud. One headlight was broken and there was a big dent in the left front fender like someone had dropped a bowling ball onto it.
“You want me to hang around?” asked the clerk, the tone of his voice hinting that the truck might not start.
“No, that’s fine,” Mark said. “I’ll be alright.”
The clerk drove off, leaving Mark alone with Mother Load. He stood in front of the truck for several minutes just looking at it.
It was clear to Mark now that the truck would be doomed as long as he owned it. Letting someone else drive it wasn’t good enough. He had to divest himself
of the truck before it took a blow that it wouldn’t be able to recover from.
“Come to collect your truck?” said a voice behind Mark.
Mark turned to see a man standing behind him with a set of keys in his hand. “Yeah, it’s my truck.”
“Well, it’s a beauty. Drives like a dream.”
Mark didn’t understand. “You drove it?”
“Sure, we’ve been using it as a yard mule the past couple of days. And one of my mechanics worked late Tuesday, so I let him spend the night in it. Guy who dropped it off said you wouldn’t mind… besides, it’s fair payment for letting you park it here all that time.”
Mark’s right hand balled into a tight fist, and he imagined that fist soaring through the air and connecting with the man’s nose. But while it might feel good for a moment, violence wasn’t going to help the situation one bit.
“Give me the damn keys!”
“Hey, what are you so sore about?” Mark snatched the keys from the man’s hands and headed for Mother Load. “Nice day to you too, pal.”
Mark didn’t bother answering. How could he say anything to the man when he was as embarrassed as he was angry? He’d been a truck owner for less than a week and in that time he’d seen his truck abused, abandoned and turned into a yard mule.
“Sorry Mother,” he said, turning the key and bringing Mother Load to life. “You deserve better.”
Mark wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but one thing was for certain, Mother Load was not going to spend her twilight years as a hack in some greasy spoon. Mark made himself comfortable in the driver’s seat, and readied himself to take her home.